#86. Weeping over Jerusalem and Cleansing the Temple (Luke 19:41-20:8)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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Text

Luke 19:39 - 20:8

[19:39] Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"

[40] "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Luke 19:39-40

[41] As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it [42] and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. [43] The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. [44] They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."

[45] Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. [46] "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.' "

[47] Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. [48] Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

[20:1] One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. [2] "Tell us by what authority you are doing these things," they said. "Who gave you this authority?"

[3] He replied, "I will also ask you a question. Tell me, [4] John's baptism -- was it from heaven, or from men?"

[5] They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Why didn't you believe him?' [6] But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet."

[7] So they answered, "We don't know where it was from."

[8] Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."


Exposition

Picture the scene of the Triumphal Entry one more time. The crowd is jubilant, carpeting Jesus' path with garments and foliage, waving palm branches, and shouting "Hosanna! Save us!" and "'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" But the Pharisees are scowling and angry at this popular acclaim.

Isn't it amazing that some can be caught up in a spirit of praise and others miss the point entirely and react critically? We see this phenomenon with David and Michal (2 Samuel 6:16, 20-23). Sometimes we see this in our worship services. But Jesus shows no sympathy with the unbelief of the Pharisees. His words are a judgment on their blindness -- indeed the blindness of Jerusalem as a whole, both leaders and people.

I've included in this week's passage three short sections -- Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem, his cleansing of the temple, and the dispute over Jesus' authority to teach -- since they all relate to the utter blindness of his opponents. We, his disciples, need to keep our antennae up so that we can learn from these incidents what Jesus desires us to learn.

Weeping Over Jerusalem (19:41-42)

The road from Bethany to Jerusalem finally crosses the ridge and dips down the western slope of the Mount of Olives. The city is spread out before them -- a beautiful site to these eager pilgrims. And yet this vision evokes not awe in Jesus but heartsickness.

"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes.' " (19:41-42)

The word translated "wept" is the Greek verb klaio, "weep, cry, bewail."[1] Jesus bursts into sobbing. He weeps for their blindness, just observed in the Pharisees who would still the praise of his followers. But is the blindness their fault? The word translated "hidden" is the Greek verb krupto (from which we get the English word "cryptography"), meaning "to keep from being seen, 'hide,' specifically here 'withdraw from sight or knowledge, hide, keep secret.' "[2]

Does God hide the truth from them? The Apostle Paul writes, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus calls the Pharisees "blind guides" (Matthew 23:24; see Luke 6:39). There is a sense in which God has blinded them (John 12:40), but only those who are willfully rebellious against the truths he is teaching. Willful blindness has caused a greater blindness still.

Here he is, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), the King riding his royal donkey into the heart of Judaism, and he is unable to bring them peace. Their hearts are callused, closed, resistant to the Good News he brings. He is not accepted as those who "proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation" to Zion (Isaiah 52:7). The only other alternative to Messiah's peace is awful judgment.

Prophecy of the Siege of Jerusalem (19:43-44a)

"The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." (19:43-44)

Jesus describes the siege of a city. The city is encircled so none can escape. The embankment protects the Romans from attacks raining down from the city walls. The word translated "embankment" (NIV) or "trench" (KJV) is the Greek noun karax, "military installation involving the use of stakes, 'palisade, entrenchment' ... 'siege-work.' "[3]

Josephus, an eyewitness to the siege and fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, writes:

"[General Titus] also at the same time gave his soldiers leave to set the suburbs on fire, and ordered that they should bring timber together, and raise banks against the city; and when he had parted his army into three parts, in order to set about those works, he placed those that shot darts and the archers in the midst of the banks that were then raising; before whom he placed those engines that threw javelins, and darts, and stones, that he might prevent the enemy from sallying out upon their works, and might hinder those that were upon the wall from being able to obstruct them. So the trees were now cut down immediately, and the suburbs left naked. But now while the timber was carrying to raise the banks, and the whole army was earnestly engaged in their works."[4]

Finally, the Romans were able to surround the city completely.

"So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine, and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged.... Now the [Jews] at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath."[5]

This sounds a great deal like Jesus' prediction, "They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls." The verb "dash to the ground" (NIV) or "lay even with the ground" (KJV) is the Greek word edaphizo, to destroy or tear down by causing something to be brought to ground level, 'dash to the ground, raze to the ground.' "[6] Finally, the Romans breach the wall and set fire to the temple.

"While the holy house was on fire, every thing was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity, but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner; so that this war went round all sorts of men, and brought them to destruction, and as well those that made supplication for their lives, as those that defended themselves by fighting."[7]

While the passages I have quoted from Josephus' account are horrible, those I have refrained from recounting are much more horrible still. No wonder Jesus weeps as he sees with prophetic vision what will take place.

The Time of God's Visitation (19:44b)

Jesus continues:

"They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." (19:44)

After killing more than a million Jews who had taken refuge in the city, and taking captive another 97,000, the Romans completed the destruction. "The Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city, and burnt them down, and entirely demolished its walls."[8]

Why did this happen? A failure of Jerusalem's leaders to discern God's visitation in Jesus. The word "coming" (NIV) or "visitation" (KJV) is the Greek noun episkope (from which we get the word "episcopal," which means "overseer"). Here the word means "the act of watching over with special reference to being present, 'visitation.' " It is used only once in secular Greek, but its meaning developed through its use in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. Sometimes episkope is used as "inquiry, investigation, examination" where a judge comes to visit -- examining and passing judgment.[9]

I think of the verse in Malachi which is especially apt with its reference to the temple which Luke mentions in verses 45-46.

"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty.
"But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver..." (Malachi 3:1-3. See also Zechariah 14:21; cf. Ezekiel 40-48.)

Instead of welcoming and submitting to the King who enters to inspect his city and temple that day, they reject him and plot to kill him.

Driving Commerce Out of the House of Prayer (19:45-46)

"Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 'It is written,' he said to them, ' "My house will be a house of prayer"; but you have made it "a den of robbers." ' " (19:45-46, quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11)

Luke touches on The Cleansing of the Temple only briefly; most of our data comes from the other Gospel writers (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; John 2:13-16). John gives the most detail, but places The Cleansing of the Temple at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry. Is this same event as The Cleansing of the Temple just before Holy Week or were they two separate events? There are good arguments on both sides, and I tend to favor them as the same event. But however you interpret the timing of the event, Jesus' action was angry and violent. He "drove" out the money-changers and selling "temple-approved" sacrifices. The Greek word is ekballo, "force to leave, 'drive out, expel.' "[10] The same word is often used to describe Jesus driving out demons from the afflicted. In the same way as he commanded the demons so they could not stay, so I can hear Jesus' voice of authority echoing within the temple courtyard.

Sales within the temple were apparently conducted by permission of the high priest's family which received a commission from every sale. Jews couldn't use Roman coins to give as an offering, so they changed their Roman coins for Tyrian coinage for the half-shekel temple tax -- and the money-changers made a bit on each sale. Likewise, the sacrifices to be offered in the temple needed to be certified as "without blemish" by a priest. Many pilgrims would purchase a sacrifice in the temple rather than herd it for several days on their way to the Holy City for Passover. Yes, it was a convenience to purchase sacrifices at the temple, but the price gouging was often terrible. Later in the First Century, Rabbi Simeon (son of Paul's teacher Gamaliel) crusades to lower the price of a pair of doves from two gold dinars to one silver dinar, 1% of the original price.[11]

No wonder Jesus skewers these crooked dealers with the word "robbers" (NIV) or "thieves" (KJV). The Greek word is lestes, "robber, highwayman, bandit, brigand."[12] He compares the temple which should be holy with a cave used as a robbers' hideout (Greek spelaion).[13] Crooked commerce must be banished from the temple so that it might serve as it should, a "House of Prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56.7).

Teaching Amidst Death Threats (19:47-48)

Jesus' enemies multiply -- and no wonder. Prior to this Jesus had challenged the Pharisees. Now he threatens the economic basis of the high priestly family -- and at such a lucrative time as Passover! Jesus is now a marked man.

"Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words." (19:47-48)

Verse 47 lists Jesus' enemies, who were not previously united. Now they stand together seeking cause for charges to be brought against him:

  1. The chief priests, a hereditary family whose members had been appointed as chief priests by Herod for terms of a year or more. Caiphus was the current high priest, succeeding Annas, who had served until recently.
  2. Teachers of the law or scribes (Greek grammateus). These are most likely Pharisees. Many from this group have verbally sparred with Jesus before, and in chapter 20 try hard to catch Jesus in some unpopular or seditious statement on which they can arrest and try him.
  3. The leaders among the people. The Greek word is protos, "the most prominent men, the leading men."[14]

Who Gave You This Authority? (20:1-2)

"One day as he was teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 'Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,' they said. 'Who gave you this authority?' " (20:1-2)

The question seems straightforward, but it is a thinly-veiled trick question. If Jesus answers that God is the basis of his authority they will call him a blasphemer and alert the Romans to the danger of his claims. If he denies God's authority for his actions then he will be accused of acting on his own. The keyword here is Greek exousia, "the right to control or command, 'authority, absolute power, warrant."[15]

Neither Will I Tell You (20:3-8)

As he does on other occasions when asked trick questions, Jesus sidesteps and asks his opponents a trick question of own. Since they are unwilling to answer, he also refuses.

"He replied, 'I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John's baptism -- was it from heaven, or from men?'
They discussed it among themselves and said, 'If we say, "From heaven," he will ask, "Why didn't you believe him?" But if we say, "From men," all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.'
So they answered, 'We don't know where it was from.'
Jesus said, 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.' " (20:3-8)

Jesus' deft handling of the question puts off his opponents for the moment. But this is only the first round in his opponents' lethal game that is not satisfied until he is dead.

Weeping and Confronting

Our passage begins with Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He knows the corruption of her leaders and priesthood. He sees in his mind's eye the utter destruction of the city that will take place in 70 AD. And he weeps because it all could have been avoided. If only they would recognize him who comes to visit and inspect his Temple! If only they can see him as their rightful King! But they cannot and their utter destruction will be the result.

I have tried to live by the dictum of picking my battles, choosing to fight only those that I feel I have a chance of winning. We certainly can't take on all the unrighteousness in the world unless we focus our efforts. But that approach puts me in danger of become cynical and amoral. In our passage Jesus, who knows that he will be crucified for doing so, deliberately confronts and challenges the power structure of the temple and city leaders. It is now his "hour," his time to confront the powers that would displace the Messiah from his rightful place.

And yet his anger at unrighteousness is tempered with his tears over the fate of those whom he loves. As a disciple I am challenged by Jesus' example of love that weeps at the same time it confronts corruption with an appropriate and righteous indignation. Is my indignation at sin really loving? God make it so!


Prayer

Father, as I consider the example of my Lord, I can see how shallow I really am. Forgive me for my loveless anger and my tearless love. Thank you for sending your perfect Son to display your love to me. Help me to love as Jesus loves. In His name, I pray. Amen.


Key Verses

"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes.' " (19:41-42)

"Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 'It is written,' he said to them, "My house will be a house of prayer"; but you have made it "a den of robbers." ' " (19:45-46)


Questions

JesusWalk: Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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  1. Why does Jesus weep at the sight of Jerusalem? Because of their blindness or because of their fate?
  2. In what way is the Triumphal Entry a royal "visitation" or inspection tour? Why are the leaders unwilling or unable to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the King?
  3. Why does Jesus drive the money-changers and sacrifice-sellers out of the temple? What reason does he give?
  4. How does Jesus' action to cleanse the temple make his crucifixion more inevitable? (Hint: At whose home was his mock trial held?)
  5. The chief priests are prejudiced toward Jesus because they have corrupted themselves with proceeds from temple sales and Jesus threatens their revenue. How can tithing serve to challenge the shallowness of our Christianity? How can we Christians be corrupted by money?
  6. Why does righteous indignation tend to be shallow when it is not accompanied by tears?


References

Common Abbreviations www.jesuswalk.com/faq/abbreviations.htm

  1. BDAG 545.
  2. BDAG 571.
  3. BDAG 1078.
  4. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5, 6, 2. (http://bible.crosswalk.com/History/BC/FlaviusJosephus/?book=War_5&chapter=6). See also Wars of the Jews, 5, 12, 2 (http://bible.crosswalk.com/History/BC/FlaviusJosephus/?book=War_5&chapter=12).
  5. Josephus, Wars of the Jews 5, 12, 3.
  6. BDAG 275.
  7. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6, 5, 1. http://bible.crosswalk.com/History/BC/FlaviusJosephus/?book=War_6&chapter=5
  8. Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6, 6, 3-4. http://bible.crosswalk.com/History/BC/FlaviusJosephus/?book=War_6&chapter=9
  9. BDAG 379. Hermann W. Beyer, "episcope," TDNT 2:606-608.
  10. BDAG 299.
  11. Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Fortress Press/SCM, 1969), pp. 32-34, 48-49. He cites M. Eudy. 1.9f; M. Shek. 1.3; M. Ker 1.7. Also Everett F. Harrison, A Short Life of Christ (Eerdmans, 1968), pp. 169-172.
  12. BDAG 594.
  13. BDAG 938. The English word "spelunking", the hobby or practice of exploring and studying caves" comes from this Greek root.
  14. BDAG 892-894.
  15. BDAG 352-353.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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